By Len Maniace
We’ve been conditioned to think of rural and suburban communities as ideal for healthy living, while cities as the opposite. In fact, a good case could be made for cities as champions of healthy living.
Cities are about the only place where human legs are a significant mode of transportation. In cities you can walk to work, or at least to the subway or bus that takes you the rest of the way. You can walk to stores, to a friend’s house or to a restaurant for a night out. Kids can walk to school, play dates and music lessons.
And walking is good for the planet – and for you. It doesn’t burn fossil fuels that pollute the air and cause global warming. Plus it’s exercise that you don’t need to drive to a gym for.
Suburban and rural communities are all about driving. Even when distances are not prohibitive, these communities simply are not designed for walking. A personal example: A suburban newspaper I worked for was less than a quarter-mile from several shops, but it was difficult to get there on foot. That would require walking along a narrow strip of pavement littered with stray auto parts, dead birds and a layer of droppings from pigeons roosting in the girders of the Thruway overpass. Step out of that mess and you were in Route 303 – a divided highway that we reporters dubbed the “corridor of carnage” for its frequent fatal crashes.
But times are changing. People are working on ways to make less foot-friendly communities more walkable, and to make cities, such as New York City, even more so. One organization in this effort is the Center for Active Design, a nonprofit created by the N.Y.C. departments of Health, Transportation, Planning, Design and Construction, and the Office of Management and Budget. It’s mission “is to reduce the risk of obesity and chronic diseases by promoting physical activity and healthy-food access through the design of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods.”
Among its initiatives is a design strategy to create open and attractive staircases that, it’s hoped, will lure people out of elevators and onto the stairs – if not for the whole trip, at least for a few floors. The changes were enacted in New York City last year by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The center recently announced its first class of design winners: One company and four projects, as well as two projects that earned honorable mention. Yes, New York City was represented among the winners, but so were projects from across the country and beyond its borders. Among the awards was the Leadership in Active Design: Excellence Award that went to Les Bluestone, president of Blue Sea Development Company and Blue Sea Construction Co. in New York. He was cited for producing two health-enhancing, affordable-housing developments in the South Bronx, The Melody, with 63 units, and the Arbor House with 124 units. An award ceremony is to be held in New York City on May 19.
The Center for Active Design website contains much helpful information, in particular, Active Design: Guide for Community Groups.